The average action-adventure movie or novel usually gives you characters playing roles that insofar as they stay true to originality do not blur the lines between the good guys and the bad guys. You have no choice but to admire the immaculately tanned skin of the former FBI agent-turned fugitive who has been framed for the murder of his ex-boss, and the ensuing manhunt that takes place. You like the way he talks, his self-deprecating humour, his facial features, his superior shooting skills, his unbelievably white teeth, and you pretty much cannot wait until he deposits a bullet into the head of the top government functionary who is responsible for his ordeal, before uniting with his exceptionally beautiful wife, or girlfriend. As thrilling as the story might seem, depending on whose book you are reading, I find such stories every bit as bland and insipid as diluted tea.
And this is where The Man From St. Petersburg comes in. Published in 1982, it is a riveting story about activities that take place among member nations that took part in world war I, especially between Britain and Russia. Prince Alexei is an aristocrat from Russia, with relations to the Tsar, who travels to Britain with plans to hold secret discussions with high-ranking officials ( Winston Churchill rings a bell) in a bid to secure a treaty. Well, somehow an anarchist group based in Russia gets wind of this news and their top man, Feliks ( I love the way the name is spelled) takes the mandate to stop the meeting from taking place at all costs. Events begin to get more interesting when it is revealed that the prince will be staying as a guest at the home of a British aristocrat, Lord Stephen Walden, who is incidentally married to a Russian lady of high birth, who had relations in the past with our man, Feliks. They have a daughter named Charlotte and between these characters we see assassination attempts, determination that is not from this world, romance that will blow your mind away and of course, action.
The thing that makes the book above average for me is that Follett gives you a man who possesses the mind and sheer will of a beast and is bent on doing evil even if it costs him his life, and yet has not forgotten how to love. A man who would give his life to achieve an objective, however sinister, should not be taken lightly. But if he decides to show love, there is no reason why it should not be every bit as raw and overwhelming as his will. That little fact is what elevates the book for me, and I am grateful that Follett has graced us with this one.